Fede Alvarez hit the genre running with his phenomenal, hyper-violent take on a classic in Evil Dead, a debut that solidified him as one of the most exciting filmmakers in horror. Don’t Breathe, only his second feature film, is further proof of that, this time telling a vicious, claustrophobic little tale that buries you in silence. In it, a group of friends break into the house of a wealthy blind man, thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist. They’re very wrong.
What I loved so much about Alvarez’s Evil Dead was that it never pulls back—it’s just this gnarly, non-stop nosedive of terror that rips the audience apart (and it’s characters!). And while a lot of Don’t Breathe brings that same level of intensity, it’s a much more restrained and calculated brand of horror that builds tension through silence—and because so much of the movie is quiet, everything else feels like a punch in the gut. It’s such a masterful way to create tension, too, and Don’t Breathe is swarming with it.
That’s what drives the story—the silence is practically unbearable, squeezing out every ounce of tension before coming at you with a storm of violence. And it’s that shock of horror cutting straight through a quiet scene that elevates Don’t Breathe, giving it a firm grip over the audience. That was my favorite thing about the movie—the way it slows down just to speed up kept it one step ahead. So Alvarez takes all of those things—the silence, tension, and violence—and wraps them in darkness, coiling the film into a cat-and-mouse thriller on steroids.
Alvarez loves to put his characters through hell (remember the nail gun scene in Evil Dead?), so it’s not at all surprising that Don’t Breathe is just as unforgiving. As if locking them in a house with a trained killer wasn’t bad enough, Alvarez turns the lights out and says good luck. That’s such a brilliant and altogether terrifying set-up, too, putting these people in a world where a blind man rules. Watching them scramble in the dark while he gracefully hunts them down was a thing of skin-crawling beauty.
The truly wonderful thing about this movie is that it’s so intense that even the scenes made up of nothing but silence have the power to shatter your nerves. It never slips away from what makes that work, either, meeting each quiet moment with shocking violence, and it does so without ever looking back. But if there was one fault, it’s in the characters themselves, who are difficult to connect with because they’re all uniquely shitty. That’s not to say it takes away from the story or the power behind the violence, because it doesn’t, it just keeps you from being able to latch onto any of the characters.
That said, Don’t Breathe is easily one of the best horror films of the year, an absolute monster of a movie that proves once again that Fede Alvarez is a force in the genre. It’s a rare breed of horror that embraces silence and earns its tension, creating a nightmare within the walls of a blind man’s home. Built on the backbone of terror, Don’t Breathe is a viciously entertaining thriller where darkness reigns.
Deleted Scenes with Director’s Commentary — There’s actually quite a bit of deleted scenes on here, all of which you can choose to watch with (or without) commentary by Fede Alvarez. One of the most interesting deleted scenes gives us a little back story into Dylan Minette’s character and his motivation behind robbing the Blind Man—Alvarez actually admits to regretting taking this scene out of the film because of how important it is to the story.
Commentary with Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, and Stephen Lang — All three bring something interesting to the commentary, especially Lang who’s such a big presence in the film that it was great to hear his take on the film.
No Escape — This was very cool; the cast and crew talk about the aesthetic of the film (the way it’s largely swallowed in darkness) and director Fede Alvarez gets into one of his favorite scenes to shoot, which was the fight in the basement that he shot in black and white. Also, I didn’t realize this when I first saw the movie, but everytime the Blind Man fired his gun in this scene, the flash brought the room back to color.
Creating the Creepy House — The set designer talks a little bit about creating the house and what went into bringing it to life—most interestingly, we learn about the basement and how the Blind Man made his dungeon.
Meet the Cast — One of the biggest criticisms about Don’t Breathe was its characters and how each of them were flawed. Here we learn that Alvarez did this by design and that he actually wanted the audience to connect with a character that wasn’t perfect—not everyone is a saint.
Man in the Dark — Stephen Lang, who is absolutely brilliant in the film, talks a little bit about his character and how he thinks of the Blind Man almost like an urban legend.
The Sounds of Horror — It’s actually crazy how the film was scored. They wanted it to sound very organic, almost like the house itself was singing. To pull this off, the composter created a lot of the instruments used. Amazing.
You can pick up Don’t Breathe on Blu-ray this November 29th.